WWC: Personal Black Box
“So, who do you take after? In your family, I mean?”
That’s a good question. I don’t know.
I never knew either of my biological parents. Everything I know about my mother comes from a letter and a few second-hand description I gleaned from old documents. I know even less about my father. I’ve never seen a picture of either one, or anyone else in my family. My heritage is a mystery to me.
Oh, knock it off. I swear, if I have to hear one more person apologize after I say this, I’m going to have a small fit. There’s this mythology behind adoption in the United States, that it’s this horrible trauma that scars you for life. Bullshit, plain and simple. I’ve even got the research to back it up, but I’ll save that a crowd that gets hot and bothered by meta-analyses. The short answer is that it’s just another part of your personal history, and a rather neutral one in the grand scale of things.
That’s not to say it’s easy, necessarily. The US in general has a real fixation with heredity, and that’s especially true where I come from. People love to tell little stories about their family history which may or may not actually be true. I’ve lost track of the number of classrooms and offices I’ve seen that have a plaque that says something like “I’m 1/16 Lakota” – a souvenir from one of the many dubious genealogical companies around here. And if its not American Indian ancestry, they’re going on about how they’re descended from Thomas Jefferson, or Genghis Khan, or Charlemagne, or Alexander of Macedon. Such a strange thing, to be proud of being 70 generations removed from someone powerful.
“Then, you’re not interested in your heritage at all?”
I didn’t say that. You have to realize that for people like me, this question is a bit different.
People seem to like to guess my ethnic background. It’s not like I can answer them, but it makes for a fun game anyway. “Russian” is a common guess. I’ve had people who actually come from former Soviet satellites guess that I have Russian heritage, so maybe there’s something to it. Other people get a little more creative and attribute a mixed ethnic background to me. Inevitably, these guesses are partially Central or East Asian – probably because I’m quiet and good at math and people love stereotypes.
So what exactly do I know? Well, I’m at least part German, but given that German is the most claimed heritage in the United States, that doesn’t exactly narrow it down by much. There’s probably some Mediterranean in there, too – Italian, maybe Greek. I know that we’ve been here for five generations, which isn’t a lot of help, either. In case you haven’t figured it out, I’ve spent plenty of time working on this – studying records, petitioning the state for documents, lying to Mormons, whatever I could think of. I started in high school and continued for seven years when I finally hit a dead end. What did I find? Very little.
“That’s a shame. Spending all that time and not finding anything.”
Well, that’s not the way I see it. It’s funny what happens when you spend a healthy chunk of your formative years investigating yourself. It’s the kind of thing that gives you a new perspective, a different view on the world – not to mention a new set of tools for dealing with problems. You gain patience, intuition, and a certain knack for finding information (for good or ill).
Most of all, you learn that you can’t let your past define you. Heritage only becomes destiny if you allow it. Yes, some people find some degree of wisdom, even comfort in following the path trod by those before them. But some of those people end up stuck on that path, obsessed with the belief that they have to do what their forebears do. It’s a blessing for some and a curse for others.
When I look in the mirror, I don’t see my father, my mother, my grandparents, aunts, uncles or anyone else. I can’t tell you where I get my nose, or my eyes, or my smile, or my stoic demeanor, or my obsession for redundant planning. You know what, though? That’s fine. When I look in the mirror, I only see me. That’s all I can be, all I will be, and all that I’ve ever wanted to be.
(Written for the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge)